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Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble season opener to spotlight piano, percussion

| Sunday, July 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Kevin Noe of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Kevin Noe of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble

Even a chamber ensemble can be transformed by a strong conductor. For more than a decade, Kevin Noe has led the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble to exciting blends of theatrical themes and panache with repertoire that stimulates the ears.

“I take pride in using our six players in ways that make all the pieces sound different from each other. So many times when you hear a sextet, it all sounds the same,” he says.

The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble begins its summer season July 12 and 13 at City Theatre, South Side. The final concerts are Aug. 1 and 2.

Noe returns to Pittsburgh from East Lansing, Mich., where he just completed his first year as director of orchestral studies at Michigan State University. The big-league repertoire at the school was wide-ranging, from “The Rite of Spring” and “La Mer” to symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, as well “The Magic Flute” and Stephen Sondheim's “A Little Night Music.”

Noe shapes his concerts thematically and also thinks about the opportunities the specific players create.

The opening concert is designed as a journey from dusk through the night to morning, and will employ four musicians. It was developed from the possibilities created by pairing current pianist Connor Hanick with his predecessor, Danny Siegel, and the availability of percussionists Sean Connor and Ian Rosenbaum for the same dates.

Noe passed on the obvious, but too old, example of Bela Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937), instead choosing music by much more contemporary American composers.

The conductor was delighted when his search for repertoire turned up “Table of Contents” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang.

“My original idea for this piece was a visual image that reminded me of the television shows of my youth,” Lang wrote. “Someone would come onstage and make music by picking up an odd array of noisemakers, in lightning succession, all of which produced sounds in different ways.”

The centerpiece of the program is George Crumb's “Music for a Summer Evening,” the third book of his “Makrokosmos.”

“We've done a fair bit of Crumb,” Noe says, “and this work is no exception to how creative he is, a master of composing a complete world in each piece he writes.”

Noe led Crumb's “Ancient Voices of Children” in 2000, his first season as head of the new music ensemble, and also has programmed “Idyll for the Misbegotten” and “Vox Balaenae.”

“Music for a Summer Evening” is written for two amplified pianos and percussion. Its five movements are “Nocturnal Sounds,” “Wanderer-Fantasy,” “The Advent,” “Myth” and “Music of the Starry Night.”

The concert will conclude with John Adams' “Hallelujah Junction,” for two pianos. Adams, who was the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's composer of the year for 2007-08, wrote it in 1996.

“The piece has brilliant silvery lines that grab you and spiral out forward,” Noe says. “I hope that the concert feels like it's bathed in light, especially with these two guys playing it. I usually create concerts about pieces, but with those two minds behind the keys, it will have something special to it.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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